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EPA must address Butte health problems

2012-04-05T00:00:00Z EPA must address Butte health problemsby Holly Peterson
April 05, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The opinion letter written by Julie DalSoglio of the Environmental Protection Agency in The Montana Standard was inaccurate, misleading and overly self-promoting.

A student spent five years of her life researching the environment, health and culture of Butte as part of the arduous, academic requirements to earn a doctorate degree. Instead of thanking the student for uncovering health-related data they did not have, and using that information to justify a more effective cleanup plan for Butte, the EPA has chosen to publicly denounce the student and her work, simply because they did not like her “findings.”

Contrary to DalSoglio’s speculation, Stacie Barry does not work for the College of Technology. Barry is the operations director of energy services at the National Center for Appropriate Technology. She earned degrees in environmental engineering from Montana Tech and recently completed her Ph.D. from the University of Montana. In addition, she was born in Butte, spent most of her adult life here, and is a role model for the Butte community.

If DalSoglio had read the doctoral dissertation, she would have learned that Barry’s manuscript is a unique, fascinating, interdisciplinary account of Butte’s culture and history. Because environment and public health are intertwined with culture and history, one portion of Barry’s research was to search for public health data for Silver Bow County and to compare the statistics to the rest of Montana and the country.

She obtained information from a publically available database on the website of the Center of Disease Control and she employed a simple yet scientifically-accepted, method of investigating standardized mortality ratios. Her findings indicated statistically significant, higher-than-normal, mortality rates in Butte for multiple sclerosis, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, bladder cancer, colon cancer, among others.

As acknowledged by DalSoglio, the EPA has been driving Superfund activities in Butte for 30 years. They deserve credit for making Butte a better place to live, but they completely ignore the need to characterize, document, and/or address the incidence of human health problems. In contrast to DalSoglio’s claims, the five-year review did not include any type of health study and to report that it validated “protection of human health” is misleading.

Furthermore, DalSoglio stated that wide-spread urinary arsenic monitoring is ongoing in Butte. If this data is available and shows a steady decrease in arsenic uptake, why is it not published in the review or elsewhere?

Rather than discrediting anyone who voices sincere concerns about health problems and action levels, perhaps the EPA needs to review the reason Butte is on the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) in the first place.

We are on the NPL because of mining and smelting related pollutants in our community. The scientific and medical literature contains undisputed evidence that chronic exposures to arsenic, lead, mercury, and other mining-related contaminants can lead to adverse health effects, including cancer and many non-cancer diseases.

These pollutants are in the soil, water, air and house dust in Butte. It only makes sense that the people residing in this area have been affected by chronic exposure.

In her letter, DalSoglio boasted that 400 yards have been cleaned under EPA’s guidance over the 30 year period. Four hundred yards are better than none, but at a rate of 13 yards per year, or even 100 yards per year, how many children and adults in Butte will continue to be exposed for years while waiting for a team to remediate their yard and remove contaminated dust from their homes? Also, if more protective action levels were in place, how many yards would be eligible for remediation? Finally, if economics have been taken into consideration, has the EPA considered the cost of rapid cleanup compared to costs for long-term treatment of diseases such as cancer?

Thanks to Barry’s independent research, we now have a baseline of human health data to be used as the starting point for further study and for judging effectiveness of current and future remediation efforts.

The EPA should stop harassing Barry and start focusing more energy and resources on revising the action levels for Butte, and accelerating the timetable for removal of contaminants from the residential yards and houses. The legacy of the EPA in Butte should be a cleaner environment with fewer health problems for future generations, not a legacy of attacking the public.

— Holly Peterson is a professor in the Environmental Engineering Department at Montana Tech.

(9) Comments

  1. anonym
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    anonym - April 09, 2012 12:11 am
    Something that most people do not know: In the last legislative session the entire Butte delegation sided with the Republican Party to get rid of the necessary protections for the environment that had been put in place back in 1971 with the enactment of the Montana Environmental Policy Act. Our legislators believe Butte cannot exist without the continuing rule of "the Old Copper Collar" and toleration of all the pollution that mining has visited upon this community. The Mining Industry rules, regardless of which of the two parties our legislators claim they belong to.
  2. CJR
    Report Abuse
    CJR - April 08, 2012 3:31 pm
    Happy Easter my sisters & brothers.

    Even if your'e not a believer & don't call yourself a Christian, we can ALL agree that we can be resurrected in one's personal life & with little baby steps. For the sake of the nation & all her citizens, I hope the Republican Party will resurect its'self & actually respond to Jesus's messages to help the poor & give everyone a chance of life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness.

    The middle-class is falling & shrinking while far-right groups suggest we need to roll back Wall Street regulations & instill a society where individual wealth surpasses evryone else the 99% . This greed &ndangerous trend will kill American democracy & trans-national corporations will rule the World.

    Low information voters unfortunately are easily led & fooled to vote against their own interests. 2012 will indeed be interesting, but at the end of the day ... if the Democrats & the President don't win, it will be because of voter surpression and stolen votes on the same machines that produced the last Republican presidential election (an election that will go down in history a day of infamy infamy). The Supreme Court has been in the hands of the right for quit some time & thay have usurped greater power, which was NOT the intentof the Founders. Since Obama won be a landslide only a close vote can be stolen. One's on the edges the 50-50% contests.

    All things considered, only the Democratic Party stands between the stipping of the EPA & the continued poising of the people of Butte Montana. All the wonderful Republican candidates represent reversing policies that protect it's citizens.

    Sorry I didn't use spell check (not working).
  3. Pseudo-Nihilist
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    Pseudo-Nihilist - April 07, 2012 7:50 pm

    CLR: If you think this is a republican problem you are delusional! Montana has had two democratic senators and a democratic governor for some time, who haven't done $@*t. Not to mention the majority of state legislators from Butte-Silver Bow are democrat. If we want to point political fingers, the EPA is under administrative control (i.e. the President) who is, wait for it...a democrat.
  4. Comparadun
    Report Abuse
    Comparadun - April 06, 2012 10:52 am

    "The opinion letter written by Julie DalSoglio of the Environmental Protection Agency in The Montana Standard was inaccurate, misleading and overly self-promoting."

    What else should one expect from an agency that is cozied up with the outfit they are supposed to be regulating, like two teenagers on a bus?

  5. CJR
    Report Abuse
    CJR - April 06, 2012 8:53 am
    Great comments by ALL. If you think Denny will serve you well, when he & others like him always sell out to the corporate interests. Their attitude harkens back to the pre-depression era of the captains of industry & Robber Barron's. It's time to pay up & get the job done. Lot's of jobs and saving the one remaining characterization of what made Butte great .. it's people! -- Haven't people suffered enough?

    Multiple generations of families left to be poisoned & the Republicans are willing to ACTUALLY & LITERALLY kill Butte off! This shouldn't be a partisan fight, but a fight to save Butte.
  6. buttepayer
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    buttepayer - April 06, 2012 3:28 am
    This is the first real public statement from Prof. Peterson, and it has a lot of clout with me. Asking around, I hear again about the years and years Butte Silver Bow making the request, demand for more reasonable, health-producing action levels and EPA/ARCO stonewalling 'til the cows come home. Now, we have another two generations of illness here in our beloved town. Seeing the list of illnesses and the faces of family and dear friends, old and way-too-young who have passed away, it brings tears to my eyes. Butte is so worth saving, and it is a town of darn heroes, people who thought their health trouble ran in the family, or was because of some genetic issue. Can Baucus be helping to make our glorious town a priority in his work with EPA? Could we deal with national or regional EPA to get a real clean up? What can we do?
  7. annd
    Report Abuse
    annd - April 05, 2012 11:50 am
    EPA and the Health Dept. have chosen to attempt to discredit Ms. Barry -- you know what they say about deeds that are employed that just make the (individuals) or company, look bad -- well, that's what they're doing -- they're making themselves look bad in that process.

    EPA - remove the Parrot Tailings, let's start with that. Stop sweeping the issues under the rug, and hiding behind the influence. Do the right thing for Butte! Of course the mortality rates related to certain illnesses are higher, all anyone has to do is talk or get together to see that this is truth. Why is it that some people are just afraid of the truth? We all admire and appreciate what this woman has done with the research
  8. peace4ever
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    peace4ever - April 05, 2012 10:37 am
    Thank you for your leadership and these truths. It feels like the people have a chance, however fleeting, to make the case for health and reasonable action levels. Why not cut to the actual solution? A proper clean-up could guarantee Butte's ability to thrive and grow healthy, becoming unstoppable. What's the excuse?
  9. cj
    Report Abuse
    cj - April 05, 2012 8:23 am
    Well said.
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